PASADENA (CNS) - About 40 Caltech scientists and engineers working at a Switzerland facility helped find what researchers think is the long-sought- after Higgs boson, the so-called "God Particle,'' a university official said today.
The Higgs boson is described as a subatomic particle believed to give matter mass, which combined with gravity gives an object weight.
The discovery took place at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, the world's largest atom smasher. It is being called one of the most important -- if not the most important scientific breakthroughs in the past 50 years, one that scholars theorize could herald a new era of discoveries in physics about the workings of the universe.
"The Caltech team is part of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) collaboration, one of two teams that have been working on this issue,'' Caltech spokeswoman Deborah Williams-Hedges said in a written statement. "The Caltech contingent is being led by Maria Spiropulu and Harvey Newman, two of our physics professors.''
According to Williams-Hedges, Spiropulu is an expert on identifying atomic particles resembling the ``God Particle.''
Those particles would reach beyond the ``Standard Model,'' the currently accepted theory that describes how all particles interact.
Newman did much of the design and development work on the crystal detectors used by the CMS team. Newman also designed and helped develop the worldwide grid of networks and data centers that store and process the massive amount of data constantly coming from the atom smasher.
"This is a momentous time in the history of particle physics and in scientific exploration. The issues are profound,'' Newman said in the statement. "One of the most exciting aspects of this observation is that the road remains open for a vast range of 'lookalike' alternatives, where any deviation from the standard model would point the way to the existence of other new particles or forces of nature.''
Spiropulu echoed Newman's enthusiasm at the implications for future research.
"This discovery bears on the knowledge of how mass comes about at the quantum level and is the reason we built the LHC,'' Spiropulu said in the statement. "It is an unparalleled achievement. ``More than a generation of scientists has been waiting for this very moment.''
According to quantum theory, the universe is made of two types of particles, fermions and bosons.
Fermions are matter such as protons and electrons. Bosons are energy that can transmit force such as photons.
In 1964 Scottish physicist Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh proposed the existence of a field that permeates the whole universe.
Under Higgs theory, this field interacts with every fundamental particle and slows it down enough to acquire mass. The slower the particle moves, the more mass it acquires.
The Higgs boson is believed to be the particle that acts as the glue in Higgs' proposed universe-wide field.
Without it, physicists theorize, the universe would disintegrate.
The nickname "God Particle'' comes from the 1993 book, "The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question,'' by Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman.
The book refers to the critical importance theorists have placed on the Higgs boson in studying the universe's existence.
"This is an incredible, exciting moment,'' Spiropulu said. ``Even these early results give us important hints as to how mass in the universe came to be.''
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